A Part of Colon Now

View of the City of Colon from the northern point. Image thanks to wikipedia.org

View of the City of Colon from the northern point. Image thanks to wikipedia.org

Tito, I soon learned, came from Westindian Panamanian parents who had the physical characteristics of the culizos. Culizos in Panama bear the racial attributes of East Indians and my new friend had that distinct swarthy skin color, chocolate-brown, with a slight curl to his mostly straight hair. These features all combined in Tito to make him a good looking guy although he was a little shorter in stature than me.

We walked in silence towards the center of the city where we both lived when we were suddenly met by another guy, a mulatto in appearance. “Hey, this is my friend Riri who came here from Panama,” says Tito gregariously.

Tito then turns to me and says, “Riri, this is my Brother Renaldo.” The three of us shake hands in a spirit of camaraderie, and I was honestly lifted out of any sour mood that I may have been harboring. “Glad to know you Renaldo,” I said and we exchanged greetings. Before moving from that spot another boy whom I recognised from our class approached us like a good little politician, with his hand outstretched. “Hey, it’s a pleasure…what’s your name?” he says good naturedly. “Reid,” I started to say, but before I could clarify, Tito says, “We’ve given him a nickname…Riri.” The other new boy, Albert Bryan, would become one of the best friends I’d harvest in the town of Colon.

Albert was a tall, dark skinned Westindian boy similar in coloring to myself. One of his outstanding features was his self assuredness and, although his demeanor was humble, he seemed extremely intelligent. That first day on the street I also got to know some other classmates who later became my faithful friends in the experiment in my life in Colon.

Among them was a very friendly boy whose last name was Henry and whose parents owned a candy store and newspaper stand on Avenida Cristobal. The others followed. There was Eddie Walcott, Vicente, Hillary, Ernest Valentino, and Zeek, all Westindian boys who restored my faith in friendship. I became known as “RiRi the guy from the National Institute of Panama” amongst them and I would soon fit in nicely in their “high marks”group, a handful of the most intelligent kids in our age group in the Colon of our day during the decade of the fifties.

I still couldn’t get over my surprisingly friendly reception on that first day of school. All of a sudden I was a guy with “prospects” whereas a month earlier I had been a complete foreigner, a nobody. In the days ahead I would begin to feel like I was truly a part of the life of the City of Colon.

In those first weeks I quickly became a part of the lives of those young West Indian boys whom I had come to respect and I I felt that I had always been a part of their lives and had always been a student in that school with them as if we knew each other from primary school. I still had the thought, however, that I didn’t fully understand the dynamics of the City of Colon, a small town with a big metropolitan city mentality with a West Indian community that had ties to the two Silver Roll workforces.

In my still bewildred state since my parents had abandoned us and I had embarked on a quest to open my own doors after they had been closed for so long, I still looked back on my perturbed past at times. After all, my acculturation had been rather strange within the Hispanic Panamanian community in which people seemed somewhat isolating.

There was always this wall of suspicion there as I remembered that I was living in a building in which the Afro-Hispanic neighbors were not allowed to associate with the West Indian families until they knew them for many years. Back at school, however, the Hispanic girls had received me cordially although the Hispanic boys were a little standoffish, as usual.

My analysis of our world in the West Indian community, the Afro-Caribbean people of the Silver Roll of the Atlantic Canal Zone, as well as the residents of Colon City itslef, was proving to be correct since they all knew each other and that seemed to be enough then. What had been inconceivable to me before, however, that I would be considered one of the boys who showed real promise, was now suddenly real. And…I had only just started knowing people.

This story continues.

11 responses to “A Part of Colon Now

  1. Daniel Webster

    I loved getting lost in Colon as a young boy by sneaking away from my parents when I went to the City from Camp Coiner. It was foolish behavior on my part and I imagine it scared my parents. But what a place! It was a magical mixture of unique people sounds and shopping din. I remember my father taking us to the movies in what seemed like a metropolitan hub with bright lights and honking taxi cabs. Everyone walked and talked hustle. Living on the Zone our shopping was limited to the bland American tastes in the commissary at the edge of Rainbow City. But Colon had a myriad of items to buy that seemed so exotic to me.

    Your friend Tito fits the description of my friend Tito who would visit the family across the way from mine, but much younger. He would come on weekends and we would explore the wilds of Mount Hope and almost to Gatun and Cristobal via the jungle and bush. Man, it was a different time, and a wonderful time to be a boy. The blend of the Atlantic flora and fauna with the unyielding urban concrete of Colon are delightfully etched in my memory.

  2. Riri…..WOW….

    It’s a strange feeling reading what someone remembers about you in your youth, and writing about it. You are taking me back to pleasant memories of a time in space; a time of peace of people and places, a time we did not want to ever see pass. But time moves on. Back then we bonded and got to like you, such, that we were hoping and looking forward to your staying and graduating with us all, as Abelistas, for what now seems like a short time, you were with us for then you simply disappeared. You were a different W.I. pick née. One who’s Spanish just naturally flowed/rolled out of their mouth. Something we awfully envied ….:) ; Also one, coming from The Instituto Nat. from Panama City, appeared and acted so ‘urbane’ and secured, impressive to say the least to us. (unbeknown to us at the time of your personal turmoil)

    If you remember, We had no professor of agriculture, a two hour class given on Friday mornings, and we would take advantage of it, and all of us, guys and girls, would go to the ‘playita’ beach at Nine St. and Front St.to occupy the time. We vividly remember a guy named Adams who had a ‘sculptured’ body and would always be displaying and to flexing the contours of his muscles .

    We also remember: Teodoro Henry, Ezequiel Ellington; Roberto Samuels, Roberto Porteous, Domitila Ceballos, Amor Amores, Rene Paredes, Cunti Aguilera, Puchi Castillo, Edison Best, Alfonso Escobar, Olga NG, Y otros.

    You were my alter ego; in that today friends don’t believe that once I was such a ‘shy’ dude, that I think I missed out on some great opportunities that to this day I still reminisce and regretfully wonder about the What Ifs.

    I will always wonder what if? Had I married Yolanda Mong, a beautiful Chinese Abelista who really had a ‘strong crush’ on me, and who’s father owned the Chicago Restaurant. Money people back then. You, my coach, were always urging me to get closer to her, shyly something I did not have the boldness to do. You even gave me pointers on how to ‘rap in Spanish’, and I even remember you saying to me once: “concho, que te pasa mein”

    Believe me, hermano, I eventually overcame .


    • Tito:
      Some times even today that feeling of regret comes back to haunt me of not having been able to graduate with you guys. But I too had a crush on that smart WI girl by the name of Gloria Wilson, and was sorry that she didn’t join us in the “Coro.” I didnt feel that I was any different from any of you, in fact, except for my home life then with my father and mother whom I would later diagnose as both being “Bipolar,” a mental illness with extreme mood changes that went from quiet moodiness to flashes of violent outbursts during which I, too many times, would run out of thier presence to get away from them.

      Thanks for bringing me up on the names of some of our classmates at that time of our lives. Just keep following my story because you would soon find out how lack of any cultural and historic basis for our existance can keep us poverty stricken and moving without any strong way to turn for relief.

      I’m thankful that many of us are still around to tell our stories and remember a different Panama in many ways.


  3. Hola a mi amgios de Chagres. I was born in Santo Tomas & lived on the CZ from 1944 – 60 & now live in Keller, Texas near the DFW airport. I forward The Silver Chronicle news to my PanaZonies friends.
    Saludos ~~ Lou aka “Sparkie” in Panama days.

  4. Richard E.Buery

    Our paths has crossed many times, since I am a very good friend of Tito and most of the persons mentioned in your narrative, such as, Reinaldo, Zeek, Alberto Bryant and others. I was alsdo a member of the coro, so you see, not far.

    • Richard Buery: How good to hear from you again. I vaguely remember the last time I ran into you in Manhattan and we chatted for a few minutes. I still am hoping that most of us that are still alive would not only read the web stories but help me and my memory by contributing a photo or some small remembrance of things I may not have known for the sake of the young ones of our descendants. Even today I feel so blessed to be able to tell my story even in my poetry about our experiences in Colon and Panama proper. Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to get in touch.

  5. I,am an Abelista also,and reading about my long times friends,it brings back good and bad memories,I was a vocacionalista with Prof.Valle.
    About the playita I use to swim to big iron, long iron and other places. Early in the morning ,also go along with friends to study for examination.
    I also want to mention some friends the use to be around Rogelio Delgado(Bolas),I see that you mention Yolanda Mong. Why you did not
    mention it to me? I and the Mongs are very good friends. During the 5th of November Dia de Colon I was always helping out in the restaurant.
    I know that we all miss the Costa de Oro.

    • Yosiquito,

      About what you said about Colon bringing back good and bad memories. I hear you! But, it is good for us from that generation who saw so many good things from Colon to remember and report on them. Colon has given our beautiful country a lot of good things.

      Please stay with us as we venture again into some important work that we have been assigned by our Lord to do in Colon for the Silver People culture. We need financial help and, most importantly, your prayers.

  6. Richard E. Buery

    This is Richard
    I am the author of a book Titled; “What if.? The Question of a Statement”
    IT is part autobiographical about my life growing up in Colon. IN it I mentioned an experience swimming in the beach from Big Iron, pass Long Iron on to the 9th street beach with an inner tube, and having an encounter with a shark which was beached at the time (what if?). I also recounted my time in Abel Bravo high School Coro, and marching band with Jaime Velez

    • Richard!

      It is good to see you here! At least you knew how to swim! At that same time it was you guys in Colon who helped teach me to swim and I lost some of my fear of the sea. In fact, my Colon grandfather Seymour Green used to take us to Ninth Street Beach and leave us little kids on the sand while he swam with his friends, and no one would bother us until he got back. I would sure like to hear about your experiences in Abel Bravo´s Coro. Why don´t you send us a pic of your book´s cover and we would show it here. Thanks again Richard.